White Plains Woman’s Club Was a Pioneer in Women’s Fitness Programs
By Colleen Fay – June 23 marks the anniversary of the signing of Title IX by President Nixon back in 1972. The law provides that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” While the law actually has broad reaching implications, many associate it with the increased access to sports and athletic facilities at schools and universities for female students.
For many years, sports were not considered important or appropriate for women and girls and their ability to exercise or participate in sports was limited. Not everyone, however, was willing to accept the status quo and some fought for equal access for women.
Almost 100 years ago, in 1921, the Woman’s Club of White Plains (or Contemporary Club as it was then known) recognized a glaring need in the community for a place where young women and girls could go to socialize, relax and exercise. The YMCA had been in White Plains for many years but no such organization existed for women. The members of the Woman’s Club decided to address the situation and established the Community Girls Works. They rented meeting rooms for the girls and successfully negotiated with the YMCA for use of their facilities one day a week. As the program grew, additional meeting rooms had to be procured and when the YMCA moved to its new facility on Mamaroneck Avenue, the athletic program for women was expanded. The Community Girls Works offered classes in swimming, weight normalizing, rhythmic dancing, clogging and apparatus work, and bowling. The Woman’s Club organized swim and gymnasium instructors, lobby registrars, locker room attendants, etc. as well as the rental of the facility. The Contemporary Club and the Community Chest were invaluable in defraying the expenses of running the program.
The program was hugely successful demonstrating the clear need and desire by women for such facilities. During the winter of 1927-28, almost 2,500 girls participated in activities at the Community Girls’ Works at the YMCA and another 450 at 124 Main Street.
The organization was clearly outgrowing its facilities and it became obvious that a more permanent solution had to be found. In February of 1929, an application was submitted to the national organization for a local branch of the YWCA to be opened in White Plains. The Woman’s Club solicited the approval of 58 organizations in the area to make this happen. By April, 1929, the application had been approved and the YWCA of White Plains became a reality.
Title IX was a tremendous boost for equal opportunity for women and fortunately, much has changed in the lives of women since 1921. However, the commitment of the Woman’s Club of White Plains to improving the future of its community has not. The Woman’s Club which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year has a long and proud tradition of charitable and philanthropic works in the White Plains community and continues to support the YWCA as well as numerous other local organizations and non-profits.
The Woman’s Club believes every woman can contribute to the various opportunities the Club offers and invites women of all ages to join them as they continue their work to improve our communities. For more information about Club events and membership, see the website www.womansclubofwhiteplains.org.
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